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The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing Optimization

By Daniel Ni
November 18, 2021

SaaS email marketing optimization means making changes to grow your business. Done correctly, email marketing optimization offers one of the best return on time invested in any marketing activity. Before diving into the tactics, it is vital to understand if you are investing in email marketing optimization.

Should You Invest In Growing Your List Or Optimization?

The size of your email list is a significant consideration in considering whether you should spend time on optimization. If you have less than 1000 email subscribers, optimization is probably not going to achieve much. With small lists, it is often better to apply your discretionary effort to 1-on1 engagement (e.g., replying to questions personally). In addition, your other email marketing focus should be on growing your list of relevant prospects.

Assuming you have at least 1,000 email subscribers on your list, it is reasonable to spend some effort on optimization.

Improving email marketing requires a certain mindset. Picture yourself as a scientist looking for answers. You wouldn’t walk into the lab and expect to discover the solution to your research problem on the first attempt. Creating successful marketing emails takes a similar attitude. Yes, there are best practices you can use to boost your performance. However, it takes regular testing to find what works best for your company’s product and customer base.

There are multiple ways to make your emails more effective. Here are some of the most common variables you can experiment with to get more opens, clicks, and sales.

• Change The Sender Name (From Name). Many companies use their company name as the sender name or “From” field. That is not the only approach. For example, marketer Ian Stanley has pioneered highly creative approaches to the sender name, such as sending email from “Your Wallet.” You might not feel like using that style. There is another option - send the emails from a specific person at your company. With smaller companies, consider using the founder as the from name. In larger companies, the emails might be from a specific person in marketing.

• Subject Lines. The subject line is the headline of an email. It is one of the most critical factors that determine whether your email gets opened. Therefore, spending additional time on email subject lines is almost always worth the effort. At a minimum, I recommend writing two subject lines for every single email you send.

To kickstart your thinking about subject lines, keep these tips in mind:

Remember the purpose of the subject line

Your email subject line has one job - encourage the user to open the email. You don’t have to sell the product in your subject line; just get the recipient to open your email.

Keep character limits in mind

Generally speaking, you want to keep your subject lines between 10 to 60 characters. You can use the Character Count Tool to check your character counts. If you are working on multiple subject lines, use the LEN function in Excel to quickly count the number of characters in a cell.

Read the subject line and first line together

Many email apps will automatically display the subject line and first line of the email together. Therefore, it is vital to check that both elements of the email flow together.

• Use Different Tones. Most companies have a formal tone of voice they use in their emails and messages. For example, Slack has a certain level of positive playfulness in the product with its loading messages. On the other hand, Microsoft has much of a corporate tone of voice. There are a few different ways to test different tones of voice in an email.

Use the first-person tone of voice.

Write your email as if it was going from one individual to another person. If you already use first-person voice, you might experiment with switching to third person. This kind of change may be jarring, though. Add a short explanation to your emails that you’re trying a different style.

Vary your sentence length and style.

Use short sentences like Hemingway. Short sentences with simple words are easier to understand. Use an app like the Hemingway editor to simplify your emails. Always remember that your users have a million things to do. Making your email easier and faster to read is worth it.

• Try Different Email Formats. There are too many ways to use email formats for optimization: technical and creative. On the technical side, email apps give you multiple choices. You can send an email in plain text, HTML or use a more elaborate design. Many marketers avoid plain text emails because plain text strips away most tracking features. However, you can still measure performance the old-fashioned way (i.e., number of replies).

The creative approach to different email formats refers to what you put in the body of your email. Let’s say that you have been sending nurture emails featuring four to six pieces of content. That’s the approach that Mixpanel uses in their weekly newsletter (see the nurture chapter for a live example). They could try a different format by focusing a future newsletter around a single piece of content.

You can also experiment with the email length. Historically, advertising experts like David Ogilvy and John Caples found that long copy is the most effective. If you have usually sent short emails with one or two paragraphs, consider sending a longer email.

Don’t be afraid to modify the templates that come with your email tools. For example, many email apps automatically provide links to all of your social media accounts at the bottom of your email. You can experiment with removing those links to focus user attention on your primary call to action.

• Experiment With Images and GIFs. Adding images to your emails can make them more exciting and drive more clicks. For our purposes, let’s separate images into two categories: standard images and GIFs (i.e., animated images that typically have a more playful style).

There are a few ways to optimize your standard images, like company logos and other commonly used images. Start by checking the file size of the image. This step is critical if you are using camera photos. Many of today’s high-end cameras produce striking images with correspondingly large file sizes. Second, check the appearance of the image in the email. Most email apps have a preview feature that lets you see how the final email will work.

When it comes to using GIFs in emails, it is helpful to think about these images differently. In most cases, these images will not be branded or directly related to your product. Instead, these emails might reference a popular TV show (remember all of the Game of Thrones memes?) or another piece of pop culture. GIFs come in both static and animated versions. Adding a GIF to your email is an excellent way to signal that your company has a sense of fun. If you are competing against giant technology companies, a GIF can help to support your reputation.

Before hitting send on images, ask yourself whether images have earned their place on the page. Images should play a role in prompting users to open your email, click links, and otherwise engage with you. If the image simply makes your prospect laugh, that’s not quite enough. After all, you’re sending emails to grow your company.

To summarize, you can optimize your emails with images in a few ways. If you have only ever sent emails with a standard company logo, try using something different, like a team photo. If you are willing to take a risk to boost your engagement and conversions, try sending a GIF.

• Optimize Your Call to Action. Legendary sales trainer and author Zig Ziglar had a saying: “Timid Salesmen Have Skinny Kids.” A call to action is no time to be timid. You must tell the user exactly what you want them to do. By all means, start by using standard calls to action like “Sign Up” or “Upgrade Now!” in your emails.

There are other choices for calls to action depending on the context of the email. Let’s say that you are sending a feature announcement email. In that case, the call to action might be something like “learn more” about the new feature. In this situation, there is nothing to buy. You are simply aiming to get the user to learn more about your product. The goal, in this case, is to nurture prospects and boost retention for current customers.

Dan Ni
About the Author

I am the founder and CEO of Messaged, the email marketing automation platform built for SaaS companies.

My email is [email protected] and I am @tldrdan on Twitter; if you have specific feedback or questions related to this guide, I would love to hear from you!

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